Health PEI consultant hired to empower local decisions

·4 min read

Dr Michael Gardam, PEI’s Chief Operations Officer (COO), is new on the Health PEI block but he brings more than 20 years of experience improving health care systems with him. Now he intends to assist PEI in the same way.

“I realize in any role like this I’m going to have to prove myself and show I actually mean what I say,” Dr Gardam said.

“All of the consulting work I’ve done around the world has been about empowering local groups to come up with their own local solutions. So I should be the least scary COO ever in PEI.”

Dr Gardam has worked in Ireland, Sweden, New Zealand, New York and all across Canada with consistent success helping to improve health systems’ quality of care and safety.

“I was warned that people would see any changes to the organizational structure as trying to centralize to Charlottetown. That’s exactly not what I am doing,” he said.

“I come with the rural focus of how do we make these communities where it’s hard to recruit and so on, as strong as possible?”

He said breaking down silos east and west as well as between mental health and the rest of the health care system will help create smooth, well-integrated and collaborative plans. This could improve the quality of care patients receive.

“Now all of the different groups, long-term care, acute care, mental health and addictions, we’re all at the same table. So we can sit together and work through how a plan is going to impact everybody else and how it can fit together.”

He said having services such as mental health and addictions trapped in their own silo is outdated.

“It’s something you would see in the ‘50s, not now,” he said. “Part of the challenge was we had mental health coming with proposals on its own but those proposals impact and rely on other parts of the system. Or you’d have the east versus west, versus central disconnects.”

Dr Gardam hopes the new and relatively standard organizational structure will assist in pulling leadership together to create smoother planning. He said it will not be at the loss of regional leadership’s authority and power to develop and follow through with plans, well tailored to address local needs.

In some ways, PEI reminds Dr Gardam of Ireland.

“What would work in Dublin definitely was not going to work in Cork. And what worked in Cork was definitely not going to work in Limerick. So we set standards that everybody was going to work on, then it was up to them to figure out how they were going to get there.”

This is the leadership style Dr Gardam brings to the Island.

The analogy Dr Gardam uses is to imagine a map of PEI and you have to drive from Souris to Tignish. Some of the roads will be mandatory, those are the standards, but otherwise it doesn’t matter what roads you take as long as you get where you are going.

In all of this he says his job will be to move boulders out of the way to empower plans and decisions that are best for each region.

Paul Young, administrator of hospitals services west of Charlottetown is optimistic about the changes.

“There is a lot of excitement across the organization right now, it’s literally palpable. People are excited about the new organization and how that will come together so we can look at better coordination and integration of services,” he said.

The changes are a tremendous advancement from his perspective and help from an all-star perspective like Dr Gardam’s adds to his optimism.

“A big part of this is support. After speaking with Dr Gardam there seems to be an additional emphasis of the idea that we want to build off what you guys are doing well and give you the room to grow and expand services and try new things,” Mr Young said.

Dr Gardam said, health care systems don’t change on a dime and it will take hundreds of small changes before the system will start to improve.

“I’m looking forward to two years from now or five years from now and saying, hey what works better?”

Dr Gardam has a 2-year contract with Health PEI.

Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic